I just got back from El Salvador where I went to see an environmental project in El Tamarindo, travelling with Maggie von Vogt, our development worker specialising in communications and advocacy. 

El Tamarindo is on the coast (“el tamarindo” is also a slang word here for thief, but I digress). The community is by a river delta that comes through the mangrove and out to the sea.

Kids on beach at El Tamarindo
Maggie von Vogt with some of the kids on the beach at El Tamarindo

The destruction of the mangrove forest has been contributing to the increasingly bad floods. The coast line round the delta has been falling away, taking whole houses (over 40 last time) with it.

Some 150 families live in this community. Again the natural beauty disguises the malnutrition and poverty that the inhabitants suffer from. 150 families, which on average have five children, means that there are around 900 to 1,000 inhabitants, 600 or 700 of which are children. It’s hard to get very accurate figures.

The project here has been with the children, teaching them about their environment and how to care for it and why. They embraced the project enthusiastically, as did the main school teacher and a community worker. The aim was to raise awareness amongst the children about the environment which has been done through photography (they took many pictures), making a film and having an end-of-project celebration. 

For this they made beautiful posters which were turned into banners. They hung them up in the mangrove, in the community itself, along the road into the area, and invited the whole community to come and see for themselves what the children had achieved (the oldest child present when I visited yesterday was 13).

Environmental poster displayed on fence
One of the poster-banners displayed on a fence

Maggie used the occasion of my visit to El Salvador to go and see them and see how they were getting on – there is no more funding for this initiative right now – as they need to be encouraged so they don’t lose heart. The affect has been really profound on the whole community: the adults now understand and take seriously the issues of their own environment. 

The children were utterly delightful and very affectionate, wanting and giving Maggie and me hugs, holding our hands along the route to the delta – can you imagine 12 and 13-year-olds doing that in England! Long live cultural differences and variety!

I particularly noticed the size of the children, so small in comparison with most children in England. Even taking account of different inherited features and the fact that children develop at different rates, when I think of the 13-year-olds I used to teach even 15 years ago, many of them could have passed for 20-year-olds and most towered above me (I’m 5’5”).

The beach at El Tamarindo
The beach at El Tamarindo

I also noticed what a lot of obstacles they have, even dealing with their rubbish. One part of the beach looked beautiful and another part was full of rubbish. Some of the children did some rubbish collection while I was there – plastic bottles and tins, they can sell.

Kids picking up litter on the beach
Picking up litter on the beach

Another little girl carefully gathered wrappers that had been discarded along the pathway, but in the end she had to leave them in a pile as there was no bin or rubbish collection. There’s a recycling/rubbish collection project waiting to happen there.

Read Maggie's blog about El Tamarindo - and watch the brilliant video that the kids made!

Sarah Sandon is Progressio’s Head of Fundraising.

Sarah Sandon with kids of El Tamarindo
Sarah with some of the kids - it was a really hot day!

Photos © Sarah Sandon/Progressio